Thanksgiving

In our warm firelit room
we talk about how we recreate ourselves,
selves remembered. How we become who we are.
 
I love the cornucopia,
pumpkin pie, marshmallow yams,
home-made cranberry sauce.
Familiar wafting from the kitchen.
We don’t know
how we deserve this.
 
We talk about the origins of the holiday,
Native Americans—
What’s happening now, the news—
We dive into the bounty,
turn it off, watch the parade.
 
My father carried me on his shoulders,
little girl floating on air
like a helium balloon—
 
my arms around him.
I saw Mickey Mouse and Pluto
float above the crowd.
He held my legs tight to his sides,
protected me
as if he’d never leave.

The Naturalized Patriot

 

Sunflowers 1
Watercolor on Paper
15 x 22 1/4"

The Naturalized Patriot

In 1914, my mother, her brothers, and my grandmother fled Austria-Hungary. My mother was five years old. In one frantic night, they abandoned their small cottage, their chickens and home-grown vegetables. My grandmother had always bartered eggs and fresh produce for milk and other necessities with neighbors and even with the soldiers who sometimes were forced to persecute her. Toys and clothing were at a bare minimum in their home. They were poor, but rich with love and family and hard-working hands. So what possessions they brought with them came down to food for the arduous journey.  My grandmother was a clever, sweet woman who knew how to survive.

Mother would never again see the daisy fields behind their small house where she played with her cousins. They had word from my grandfather, who had gone to New York to find a way for his family to emigrate, to leave immediately and take no possessions. Archduke Ferdinand had been assassinated on a bridge near Sarajevo, and Jews, who had not been safe from pogroms before that day, were being rounded up. War was on the horizon.

The young family climbed onto a hired donkey cart. They fled through the night to the docks where they boarded with other refugees, the freighter, “Kaiser Wilhelm,” for a journey that took them across the sea in deplorable conditions and lasted many weeks. My mother and her siblings developed eye infections in the crowded steerage and when they finally arrived at Ellis Island they were almost turned back. Grandmother bathed her children's eyes until they opened and they were released after several days of detention to Delancey Street where my grandfather had found a one-bedroom apartment.

Mother was determined to learn English even at that young age, actually taught it to her parents, and finally thrived, in this, her beloved land of opportunity. Her best memory from the trip was the vision she saw when she opened her eyes in New York. It was the “great lady,” she said, the Statue of Liberty, and the tears she shed not only cleared her crusty eyes, but instilled in her a sense of patriotism that never left her.

She loved America and the English language and educated herself after she was forced to quit school in Junior High to help support my grandparents’ burgeoning family. She became a bookkeeper, and, as a naturalized citizen, voted every year, read newspapers voraciously and voiced her opinions at meetings. She never missed a Chuck Schumer event or a political rally for a cause in which she believed.

As the world continues to erupt in wars and grass-roots struggles, even in these times, where no part of the planet is free of turmoil, people are still desperate to live and work in a country that abhors persecution. That country, our country, is America, whose full name starts with "United." It’s our responsibility to engage in respectful dialogue that upholds principles of democracy and to vote— rights Mother never took for granted. It's our duty to remain firm in the principles which can keep us strong, with compassion for all.

And that is especially important this year when the stakes are so high. I will vote for the person I think is most sane and who will keep closest to the ideals of civility and respect for the values that my immigrant family sought when they took that journey across the ocean.

I hope all Americans do the same. Vote your heart, but vote smart.

- Rosalind Brenner

On The Swing

Quadriptych
Oil Ink Monotype on Paper
9 x 6" each
2016

On The Swing in the East Garden

Cicadas raucous scratching
warns August to make way.
I hate and love their eerie racket
in these full-starred, clear sky nights.

These end-of-summer days
morning fog refuses to lift.
Trees ghost-whisper
on late warm wind;
arching branches
will soon drop leaves.

I mourn the death of the season
and though there is relief
in the heady scent of cooling ocean air
and new-lit fireplaces,
I taste the parting on my lips.

The sweet has turned
melancholy and even
your last touches, dearest friend,
hands gentle on my sunburned back
applying aloe, and your breath
blowing me cool,
the memory of that
does not assuage this
sense of loss as sun leaves early
and I'm left behind
in the dimming of
the reds, the aqua, purples, blues
abbreviated days.

- Rosalind Brenner

COMING HOME

Red Riding Hood
22.75 x 15"
Oil Ink Monotype on Paper

Coming Home

Because last night as we drove home we talked
to keep my husband's eyes from glazing at the wheel,

because when we arrived the air inside
was washed with fresh cooked applesauce

from apples growing in our orchard —
Because of the lesson the monk taught

about the fifth perfection: concentration, harmony,
stability, and my studio looks as if my mind

has spilled onto the floor, I woke today, intention to begin
to scoop up the pieces. I brewed coffee and noted the sky

is overflowing, violet in the angle of the sun.
Swaying trees are turning toward the changing season,

leaves will soon be crunching underfoot.
Everything I think I know

in this new moment becomes a need to write:
my go-to temporary relief from angst —

Because of all this

I grant myself another chance to practice till I get
the fifth perfection right and move on to the sixth —

but first I stare
into the refrigerator
and fix myself
a bowl of homemade applesauce.

- Rosalind Brenner

Detail
Red Riding Hood
22.75 x 15"
Oil Ink Monotype on Paper

Art House Serendipity

 

Summer
Acrylic on Canvas
24 x 24"

We are enjoying the summer here at Art House. We have this great thing that happens frequently I want to tell you about. More often than one can imagine, two couples from opposite sides of the country or planet will be enjoying a leisurely breakfast feast in our garden and will discover that they have mutual friends, or went to school together, or that they have similar challenges, maybe children who have reading disabilities or other problems, or that they were all at the same wedding of a friend or cousin. This week we had two guests who had never met before, both of whose fathers fought in the resistance in Vilnius, Lithuania in World War 2. One of their fathers was 12 years old and the other was 15.

The Art House breakfast lasted for hours, as it often does, folks talking, embracing, sharing.

We make magic here. It's quite uncanny. The camaraderie and tranquility serve up great helpings of ease, luxury and comfort that make our guests so happy. And of course, being able to provide all of this makes us happy too. That's what it is about.

Detail
Summer
Acrylic on Canvas
24 x 24"

Detail
Summer
Acrylic on Canvas
24 x 24"

Out of the Mouths of Babes

 

Mother and Child
Monotype on Paper
15 x 12"

This month I am quoting my son who quotes his five-year old son, my grandson, because I wouldn't be able to say this any better:

"The boy gets deep from time to time, but this came after a hard climb - a steep and slippery half mile to the summit above L.A.'s famous Eagle Rock. Otto has been feeling a little blue about coming in last in the school foot race this year - he was the shortest kid in the entire school - and the seemingly-endless laps around the schoolyard weren't his forte. But on the hill, after tumbling a few times, losing his footing, getting a couple of "ouchies", he said: 'You don't need to be fast to climb mountains. You need to be slow so you can do it right and see everything. And it was scary. I kept thinking I needed candy to help me, but then I realized all I really had to do was face my fears.'

Then, at the bottom, with a handful of buckthorn, a few rocks in his pockets, as he pulled nettles from his socks - all in a conveniently placed chair - he said:

'Mother Nature is everything. She's the plants and the trees, she's everything that ever happened, and everything forever. She's people, even if people don't always know it. She didn't make us. She is us.'

That's facing your fears, I'd say, and overcoming them."

Where do these gems come from? Who knows? How do talents and wisdom arise in children? Yes, for those who are fortunate, it can come from their good parents, good education, happy environment. But often, it seems, in spite of a troubled world, out of unfathomable mystery comes a glimpse of what we humans are capable of, something that must be in all of us.

The Planet and All Humans Need Love

Gaia - Troubled by What We Do To Her
Acrylic on Canvas, 24x18"

 

Why I'm Afraid

Because the world is gone

Because the pebble rain stops falling
and landscapes burn

Because the air might disappear

What if the geese had no home to return to
what then

what now

What is left for us to imagine when
we have made this reality

unimaginable

- Rosalind Brenner, from her book Omega's Garden

 

My paintings are, for the most part, uplifting, and my poems are dark a lot of the time. Aren't we all capable of both joy and despair? If I catch myself feeling those highs and lows I chalk it up to self-absorption. I'm certainly not being grateful at down moments. Yes, I am grateful when I get glimpses of all the amazing people and things in my life, but when I look at what's happening in the world, I want to stop looking, not see it. What can I actually do?

On the way home from running around the village, buying goodies for my guests, it is morning, before traffic begins to pack the streets. I am listening to Diane Rehm's NPR radio show as I move in and out of the car. The first hour is about chemicals, something like 100,000, in our air, our water, our food, in us, in our babies, seemingly because of lack of regulation, indifference and big money interests. Some we produce and distribute on purpose, we humans, and some are accidental and toxic by-products of our inventions. At one point I hear one of the speakers say that some chemicals do good, but that percentage is very small.

In the second hour, Ms Rehm's guests discuss the Boreal Forest Fire in Canada that forced 88,000 people from their homes. Forest fires can be started by lightning or man. Guess which one is the most responsible? The conversation illustrates how forest wildfires lead to climate change which leads to forest wildfires, and so on until we've done our planet in.

My father said long ago when he first heard of plastic that it would ruin the world. Of course he was an ordinary man and could not foresee the good that could come of plastic. And chemicals? Not on his radar, most of them unknown. But now, if he were here, I'll bet he'd be crying, sentimental man that he was. The inadvertent consequences of our fast-track "progress" have gone way beyond the waste that plastics produce.

So what can I do? I too am ordinary. I can start delivering food to elderly folks in my neighborhood. I can be hospitable in my inn. I can welcome all who come through my door. I can make art.

But the greater question of what to do requires looking at the big picture. And that picture turns me inward to the only thing I can improve. And that's my mind. That is, to do the work required to develop a true mind of compassion, to strip the layers of self-cherishing that make me think my own personal suffering is the worst of all while our planet itself is suffering, and thus, all of us are. We inflict the pain. We are our own victims. Predator and prey. And now this: Orlando.

This is said so well by my son, Dan Koeppel (who is a wonderful writer,) on his recent Facebook post about Orlando. (How horrible that these tragedies start to define our cities.):

"I believe in love and I believe that all human beings need love, deserve love, and are capable of love. All these poor kids were seeking was love, and they were murdered for it. So what do we do? Fight? Give in to the various flavors of hate and blame that are being sold to us (and there's a flavor for everyone; hate works that way, customizing itself so it can sneak into your heart.) Or do we double down on love, and cope with the heartbreak - such heartbreak - and it seems to happen more and more. That increasing the stakes that way turns out to have yielded a losing hand. Again."

More thoughts on the tragedy of the way we treat each other:

The only way to change what seems inevitable is for all of us to change our minds, mind our footprints, our behaviors. This takes vigilance and practice. This takes remembering to care, even in challenging situations, especially in challenging situations, even beyond caring for the people close to us. We can only change the world by changing the way we think. Stop being so damned selfish about our own little worlds. Stop the guns. Stop the money worship that fosters evil. Big picture, one frame at a time.

 

The Writing on the Wall

I found a 1987 magazine named "Woman of Power" tucked among the old paintings, papers and piled up journals in my studio crawl-space. The picture I have posted here got me thinking, ( again; still ) about the way women are treated all over our world. From disrespect to outright abuse and everything in-between, it's all degrees of the same affliction. Cruelty, greed for power, fundamentalism, self-grasping. Would it be the same world if women had the same rights, and equal voices to men? Surely not. What if we experimented with a new idea? A paradigm shift that breaks away from the values that hold us down, trapped in patterns that are at best destructive and at worst tyrannical and brutal.

                                                                            Woman of Power Magazine, Spring 1987, Issue 6, Page 6

Last night, listening to NPR, I was moved by the story of Maria Toorpakay, the Pakistani champion squash player who, with her brave father and mother's approval and help, dressed as a boy in the Taliban-infested area of Peshawar's tribal lands in order to be able to play outside and compete in sports. She won medals in weight-lifting and ultimately, mastery in Squash. You go, girl, I thought, as I remembered my sister's and my own athletic abilities being frowned on when we were kids. But this is America and at least there's change. Slow, but change.

I am heartened by young women I know. They are smart and aware. They are seekers and their lives are filled with choices. They are lucky. Not so in many, many parts of the planet. Not so in 1985 in Nicaragua.

Woman of Power Magazine, Spring 1987, Issue 6

Woman of Power Magazine, Spring 1987, Issue 6

Favorite Poem Project

Taking it All in Stride
48 x 36"
Acrylic on Canvas
*SOLD*

On the night I married, in our ante-bellum rental in Lake George, nestled on the Josephine chaise was a small, beautifully embroidered pillow. It read “So many men, so little time.” But I chose.

The question of my favorite poem boggles me. I have so many favorites, and now a deadline to make a choice.

The first one that comes to mind is Dylan Thomas’, “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” perfect Villanelle that I remembered as my sister lay dying after having fought a four-year war with disease, finally not “kicking and screaming,” as it seems Dylan Thomas would have his father do.

I love ee cummings, his delight in words, his playfulness with form, his observations. “anyone lived in pretty how town…” tickled me. When I discovered ee cummings’ work in high school I bought a blank page notebook to fill with my own quirky poetry.

So many more:

Yusef Komunyakaa’s amazing poems about war and disaster, addressing huge issues with brilliant imagery.

Tom Lux; his wit and humor and seriousness

Emily Dickinson, her singular voice: my favorite, “Because I could not stop for Death-/ He kindly stopped for me-”

Roethke’s, “My Papa’s Waltz,” reminds me of my father and dancing in our living room with my Mary Janes planted on his big shoes.

Mary Oliver’s poem, “The Journey,” hangs on my studio wall because it is about becoming, about taking a solitary journey into that voice inside, to be aware that first you must take care of yourself, set out on your own quest. That poem helped me get through a lot of bumps in my own journey.

I’m choosing here Kim Addonizio’s poem “What Do Women Want” because, though it is also about a woman’s journey, it is a brash, modern voice. Also I heard Addonizio read once at the Palm Beach Poetry Festival and this one brought down the house. This poem is funny and serious and so contemporary. It appeals to my feminist leanings and says a lot about our culture. With its ironic and passionate imagery and sexuality it conveys the idea that today’s woman will not be held down or locked into a role. She will defy men’s or society’s preconceived notions of what a proper woman should be. The dress (her body, yes, but also her sense of self) will carry her through a woman’s life. She takes that flimsy red dress on a walk past the town’s folk who may be stereotyping her or judging her. She claims not to care. She doesn't want to care. She doesn't care. She is woman and has important things to do. She will assert that red-dress-attitude. It will take her through life and it will become her, and she, it. Not necessarily a spiritual journey yet, but a beginning of discovery.

 

What Do Women Want
by Kim Addonizio

I want a red dress.
I want it flimsy and cheap,
I want it too tight, I want to wear it
until someone tears it off me.
I want it sleeveless and backless,
this dress, so no one has to guess
what's underneath. I want to walk down
the street past Thrifty's and the hardware store
with all those keys glittering in the window,
past Mr. and Mrs. Wong selling day-old
donuts in their café, past the Guerra brothers
slinging pigs from the truck and onto the dolly,
hoisting the slick snouts over their shoulders.
I want to walk like I'm the only
woman on earth and I can have my pick.
I want that red dress bad.
I want it to confirm
your worst fears about me,
to show you how little I care about you
or anything except what
I want. When I find it, I'll pull that garment
from its hanger like I'm choosing a body
to carry me into this world, through
the birth-cries and the love-cries too,
and I'll wear it like bones, like skin,
it'll be the goddamned
dress they bury me in.
 

Miami

I was fortunate to have an opportunity to spend some time traveling this winter. My journey stopped in South Beach, which provided me with a period of productive and meditative solitude sprinkled with fun with friends. I took long walks on the beach and in the city filled with the aliveness of tourists and locals. I had no car, which was a delight. I loved swimming in the warm blue ocean when El Nino gave the waves a moment to calm down.

I left my big studio and our B and B to spend time in a small apartment where everything I needed was at hand. I painted on the kitchen counter, wrote on a laptop and happily cleaned and did my laundry all in one small area. I know that an organized environment keeps me disciplined. And without my dear partner there to help me, little things, like always putting my keys and hat in the same place, helped me stay focused and organized internally, not a small accomplishment for a chaotic, busy mind.

Miami is, like any city, full of vibrant energy and plenty of problems. It’s very obvious that the homeless gravitate there for the relative safety of the warm climate and that they live in doorways while the millionaires look from their expensive balconies at fabulous ocean views. I found myself constantly thinking about the human condition and wondering if compassion alone is enough. Well, it’s a god start, anyway.

Here are two poems I wrote about my experience of Miami and a painting. Enjoy!

 

Model, Miami
Monotype and Graphite on Paper
18 x 12"
2016
 

Exact Change

A young man whose body
is not beautiful is having trouble
eating his sandwich. It's oozing
onto his stained Bob Marley tee shirt
that hangs above his spilling stomach.
He sits next to me
beneath the bus stop canopy.

"You look like you want the local,
not that one," he says, as if it were on fire.
How does he know?
I'm not sure what I want.

As the local bus arrives, he says
"You need exact change."
Funny, most of my life has been inexact change.

I stand in line
my quarter ready,
a local user.
 

 

Leaving Miami

I crouched under the card table,
Mother clacking mahjong tiles,
her high heels pressing against me
to make sure I stayed there.
Miami was a warm womb;
Now, no more ladies around a game
at the swimming pool, no more
fur stoles and teased hair.
Now only the seismic shift of everything
that made my mom come here.
So, it's not the food I'll miss
though Cuban chicken soup,
richer amber, noodles thick, lime chaser.
is better than my mother's sober broth
with hard tack matzo balls.
Not the food, though I loved Chimichangas
at Las Olas, the salsa mix of brown skinned Cubans
that gather at the counter in the morning.
Not just the food,
even though the sweet creamy filling
in fresh baked cannoli
at the bakery on 5th Street
draws me like a nude
encounter with a dark Italian man.
It isn't for the food
I sit for hours in a café,
drink café con leche, eat pan de bono,
watch the locals,
listen to the babel of tourists.
I'm sad I have to leave
this city, the way its crazy,
teeming street people
emerge in my earned solitude.
And I'll miss then, all but extinguished
memories of my folks,
the way the hotel landscape
met the scary waves, the way
I love to swim today
because my father coaxed me in.

Dusting Off Your Old Journals

 

Today I climbed the stairs to my writing desk to write a post about the poet’s dilemma. How can I wake myself up? How can I surprise myself? How can I make old information new or find new ways to talk about experience? I’ve already written quite a lot about matters of importance to me and hope that perhaps one line or two has struck a universal chord – for those who read poetry and find their way to my poems.

Poetry heals, poetry relives, poetry is the universal language. Even people who insist they don’t understand or like poetry, sway to its truth at weddings, funerals, inaugurations, graduations, demonstrations or in quiet moments of need.

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Leftover Hats

Pipe King ,  2010 ,  31" x 39" ,  Mixed Media Collage on Paper

Pipe King ,  2010 ,  31" x 39" ,  Mixed Media Collage on Paper

Leftover Hats

Glass beads fall from these old jeweled hats
he'd stuff into his selling suitcase,
carry home to Mother, his sometime
wife—gifts to quiet complaints of loneliness.

I'm surrounded by women was dad's lament
but at dawn he headed for his factory, opened up
for his hundred piece workers. Preferred
their noise to ours. They were his girls.
We were his women—

There is no rising now, no hope the rabbis
spoke of when they came to our apartment
to berate him for his failings in the faith,
reminded him his grandfather was
the wisdom-rebbe in the Polish village
of his birth, his grandmother, a healer,
her potions brewed from greens
in adjacent woods dense enough
to shield the family for escape.
No woods on Delancey Street, New York,
America. And dad was through with shul.
On holy days he made us stay indoors.

But when he could, he treated us to Sunday
dinners at the Chinese restaurant and trips
way out to Jones Beach where the city ended
and he could brave the big waves. Some days
he'd take me to his factory. Disembodied
wooden heads and hats in stages of completion
mingled with chattering Spanish 'girls'
at the rows of sewing machines.

Blossoms spread along the brims, folding
on themselves, pinks, yellows weeping
into brown. White straw dull as rotted teeth
crumbles, brittle as remains.

- Poem by Rosalind Brenner
One of of 20 Poems and 20 Paintings published in Rosalind's book All That's Left